From A To B: Searching For Silver Line's Silver Lining (Transcript) | WAMU 88.5 - American University Radio

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From A To B: Searching For Silver Line's Silver Lining

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:09
I'm Rebecca Sheir and welcome back to "Metro Connection." Today we're bringing you one of our Wild Cards shows. So our stories are kind of all over the map today, from why D.C. wants to start unearthing buried streams to a new bill that would make sure paid workers are getting their fair share. Up next, we're going to take a look at something that's had a pretty wild ride here in the D.C. region, the Silver Line.

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:30
It's the topic of our transportation segment "From A to B."

MS. REBECCA SHEIR

00:00:46
So what is the status of this $5.6 billion rail project? Transportation reporter Martin Di Caro joins us now with, I hope, an answer. Hi, Martin.

MR. MARTIN DICARO

00:00:54
Hi, Rebecca. And you know, I wish I had the answer the region has been waiting for, but I don't. We still don't know when the Silver Line might open to the public.

SHEIR

00:01:03
Okay. But it's been like -- I don't know -- a month since the last delay was announced. So what's happened since then?

DICARO

00:01:10
Well, the agency overseeing the Silver Line's construction, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, known as MWAA, and the lead contractor Bechtel, both say they're making progress rectifying the project's problems. Just to give you one example, the trackside computers that communicate between the trains' automated safety system and Metro's headquarters -- they're not reliable enough.

DICARO

00:01:29
They all have to be replaced before the project reaches substantial completion. Here's MWAA board member Tom Davis, asking the project's executive director, Pat Nowakowski, about it at their board meeting on Wednesday.

MR. TOM DAVIS

00:01:41
Okay. So how close do you think we are to substantial completion?

MR. PAT NOWAKOWSKI

00:01:44
Okay.

DAVIS

00:01:45
If it's okay with everybody, let's just get it out now while we're here. You know, what are the punch list items, where are the problems?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE #1

00:01:53
We are going…

NOWAKOWSKI

00:01:54
We're going through the list, we're checking it twice. And we're very much focused on getting these items done and getting them done as expeditiously and quickly as possible. I can't give you a time because I don't have one right now.

SHEIR

00:02:10
Okay. So when we use that term substantial completion, what does that mean exactly?

DICARO

00:02:14
It means the project is ready to hand over to Metro, which then has up to three months to test it and open it to passengers. But there are several eye-opening problems that are keeping that milestone from being reached.

SHEIR

00:02:25
Well, in terms of those problems you already mentioned the communication system. But what else is going wrong?

DICARO

00:02:29
Well, one of them is a little baffling. The contractors installed speakers throughout the entire 11-mile system from D.C. to Reston, the speakers that have been used before on Metro lines. Inspectors said at first they were okay. They met the current code at the time of the Silver Line's design. But recently inspectors with that same agency, the Virginia Department of General Services, said the speakers needed to be replaced because they did not meet the fire code.

DICARO

00:02:52
As it turns out, the speakers were first supposed to be used only for communications, then they were supposed to be added to the fire alarm system and they were not up to the current fire code to.

SHEIR

00:03:01
Oh, man, so now what are they going to do?

DICARO

00:03:04
Well, it's all very complex. They have to be torn out, replaced, tested, inspected, all over again. That's just one example of the problems that people are a bit surprised to learn about when it comes to holding up this multi-billion dollar project.

SHEIR

00:03:16
So the contractor, Bechtel, what do they have to say about all this?

DICARO

00:03:19
Bechtel says MWAA has yet to specify what needs to be done to reach substantial completion. And Nowakowski finds that odd.

NOWAKOWSKI

00:03:26
I don't know why a spokesperson said what they did. At the same time that quote was made to the news media we were in a three-hour meeting with the executives from DTP yesterday afternoon.

DICARO

00:03:37
DTP, by the way, stands for Dulles Transit Partners, and that's the contractor group that Bechtel leads.

SHEIR

00:03:44
Okay. So my question, if these delays persist, who's going to pay for all this?

DICARO

00:03:47
That question is at the center of the next important date for the Silver Line, April 9th. Remember that one. If the project does not reach substantial completion by then, Bechtel can be fined $25,000 per day, a scenario MWAA's chief executive Jack Potter says he'd like to avoid.

MR. JACK POTTER

00:04:03
That leads us into a world of, you know, administrative nightmare, and I think all parties are interested in getting it done. So that's kind of the red flag that we're shooting at and everyone's charging.

DICARO

00:04:14
Now, Bechtel says that date is subject to change, but MWAA is not so sure of that. Let's listen to Tom Davis again.

DAVIS

00:04:20
I mean this is just a far cry from where we were six months ago when everybody was saying, oh, we're going to get this thing in January, then maybe well, February, March for opening. And it just has kind of slid forward and, you know, I think we need to convey to our partners on this the disappointment we see here.

DICARO

00:04:35
So the public shares in this disappointment. The Silver Line was supposed to open in January, mid to late summer now looks more like it.

SHEIR

00:04:42
Mid to late summer? So I'm thinking maybe we should just pencil this in as opposed to using -- I don't know -- a sharpie.

DICARO

00:04:48
If there's one thing we've learned about the Silver Line is be very careful about predictions. Maybe we'll use a dry erase marker

SHEIR

00:04:55
Even better. Martin Di Caro, thank you so much for bringing us this update on the Silver Line.

DICARO

00:05:00
You're welcome.
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